Thursday, February 5, 2015

Give me Liberty … or Give me Terror

I recently watched the History Channel’s mini-series “Sons of Liberty.” It’s everything that we’ve come to expect from the cable channel: a good looking cast, some great battle scenes, fudging of key facts and 21st century language put into 18th century mouths. I doubt very much that Benjamin Franklin said of the idea of Independence: “Well, that’s an absolutely bat-shit crazy idea.” In this telling, the British referred to the Colonists as terrorists, though the word would not be coined for some thirty years. Historically accurate? No. Amusing diversion? Yes. Its timing was good as invoking the terrorist description has become the de-facto label for evil, even though much of what’s called that today isn’t.

Al Jazeera English’s editor recently had an email leaked. The communication to reporters and editors at the news network (funded by the Qatar Government) reminded them to be more careful in the use of all wording, especially the terms ‘terrorist’ and ‘jihad.’ “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter,” the email said. "Words that have a tendency of tripping us up. Avoid characterizing people. Often their actions do the work for the viewer." He’s absolutely right, both politically and journalistically.

In October of 2014 a gunman killed a soldier at Canada’s national war memorial and then stormed Parliament. In response last week (1/30/15) Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced new legislation that will further criminalize terrorism, allowing the government to approach and hold suspects up to five years based on “threats” and allow the state to remove “objectionable” material from the Internet. "Over the last few years, a great evil has been descending upon our world, an evil that has been growing more and more powerful: Violent jihadism," Harper said. The change in the law comes after one incident that killed one individual.

The U.S. passed and has renewed the Patriot Act in response to the horrible events of 9/11/2001. The law has been blamed for limiting many freedoms promised under the Constitution, and has been hailed for protecting the country from further attacks. Local municipalities are now taking the defense against terrorism one step further.

In New York a pilot program is being launched that equips police officers with machine guns. The Strategic Response Group will be dedicated to “disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities” against attacks which the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence John Miller said was an “inevitability” in NYC. This new squad will be used to investigate and combat terrorist plots, lone wolf terrorists, and… protests. “It is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests,” Bratton said. 

Last week a fourth grader in Texas was suspended for making “terrorist threats” --- suggesting that he had a ring that could make his classmate disappear. According to Kermit Elementary School officials, 9-year-old Aiden Steward told a classmate that he possessed a magic ring forged in Mount Doom — a fictional location from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. This absurd response to two kids playing may be an extreme example – but it exists and the punishment was meted out and the definition of terrorism ever expands.

How many indignities and incidents took place in the 1770’s until the revolution actually started? Was it the state telling citizens what they could say, where they could say it and how they could assemble? Patrick Henry is said to have coined the phrase “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” in 1775 as a way to get the Virginia House to commit its troops to the Revolutionary War. Such a statement today might well be labeled a terrorist threat and the speaker subject to arrest. I’m with our ancestors. Give me liberty.

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